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How to Claim Salvage Rights on a Boat

March 25, 2023
Maritime Defense

What You Need to Know About Claiming a Derelict or Abandoned Vessel

Florida is home to thousands of abandoned vessels. Many are damaged as a result of natural disasters, while others simply become too difficult to maintain and are left by their owners. Despite the Florida coast being lined with these at-risk boats, it is unlawful for a person to simply take or claim the property without following proper procedure.

There are no salvage laws in the state of Florida. A person hoping to take possession of an abandoned or derelict vessel must obtain title before making a claim for the property. The Statutes for Found Property detail the steps that a person must follow in order to legally take possession of the boat. 

What Types of Vessels Can Be Claimed?

As reported by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are countless abandoned vessels along the coast and intrastate waterways. These abandoned vessels become a public safety issue housing crime and posing a risk to the environment. Despite the problems caused by these boats, it is illegal to remove any part of the property without following the proper legal procedures.

Types of vessels that can be claimed:

  • At Risk Vessels: At-Risk vessels are boats that may be taking on water that they cannot release, have broken loose from their anchor, or are partially sunk. As noted in The Florida Statutes it is a boat that is at risk of “reaching a likely and foreseeable state of disrepair.”
  • Abandoned Vessels: An abandoned vessel is one that does not have an “identifiable owner” and has been left on public property. Abandoned vessels are generally left in a “wrecked, inoperative, or partially dismantled condition.”
  • Derelict Vessels: Derelict vessels are those that are sunken or sinking, have run aground, are stripped of vessel components, or have critical systems that are inoperable.

While these boats present safety concerns and environmental hazards, it is illegal to take them or any part of them without obtaining a title. Unlawful taking of any property is considered a crime in the state of Florida and may subject you to criminal charges.

How Do I Make a Claim to an Abandoned Vessel?

If you find an abandoned, at risk, or derelict vessel in Florida you must report it to a law enforcement agency. The agency will then conduct an investigation to find the owner of the property. If no owner can be located or the property remains unclaimed you may then start the salvage claims process.

Is It Illegal to Abandon a Vessel in Florida?

State law prohibits a boat owner or operator to abandon a vessel or improperly dispose of it.

As discussed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, it is illegal to dispose of your vessel by:

  • Sinking it without permits or approval;
  • Grounding it and abandoning it;
  • Cutting it loose and allowing it to drift away;
  • Mooring it and then failing to maintain it; or
  • Burning the vessel in open water.

Abandoning a vessel can result in felony charges. It is important to understand your rights and responsibilities regarding any property that you own.

Contact Mase Briggs Seitz

If you would like to learn more about salvage rights in Florida, contact our office at (305) 377-3770 to schedule a free consultation.

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(305) 377-3770
Mase Seitz Briggs
2601 South Bayshore Drive
Suite 800
Miami, FL 33133

Phone: 305-487-8863
Toll Free: 1-844-904-1749
Fax: 305-377-0080
1200 N Federal Hwy
Suite 200
Boca Raton, FL 33432

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